The Australian Olympic Committee’s inflated gold medal forecast for the London Games needs a reassessment following the track cycling world championships.
The harsh reality check is that Great Britain are on course to finish well ahead of Australia on the overall medal table after they prevailed in Olympic events at the world championships which concluded in Melbourne on Sunday.
The AOC’s benchmarking figures late last year, which put Australia fourth on a projected medal table for London with 15 gold, one more than Britain, were based on world championship or equivalent events for 2011.
They included the six gold medals won by Australia and the one claimed by Britain in Olympic events at last year’s track cycling world championships, results that will not be repeated in London.
The Brits stormed back at the Melbourne world titles over the past five days, winning five gold medals in Olympic events while Australia claimed three.
Those figures would swing the predicted gold medal haul in London to 18 for Britain and 12 for Australia, elevating the hosts into fourth place behind China, the United States and Russia.
With 12 gold medals, Australia would slip behind Japan, France and Germany, potentially into eighth place, its worst ranking since the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Despite the drop from the anomalous results of the 2011 world championships, Australia’s track cyclists are still in a good position for London.
Certainly well ahead of the disappointing one silver they brought home from Beijing in 2008.
Although they lost the three world titles they were banking on as the best hopes for gold in London, they were relinquished by the barest of margins.
Two of them fell to Britain – the men’s team pursuit and Anna Meares’ individual sprint title – and it took world records in the pursuit and women’s team sprint to topple the Australians.
Australia’s gold medals came from Meares in the women’s keirin and Glenn O’Shea in the men’s omnium, while the men’s team sprint had a lucky win when they were elevated from the bronze medal ride after fastest qualifier Germany was disqualified from the final.
With some perspective, the Australians can see they have great depth and are only a few hundredths of a second from converting several silvers into gold.
Britain won gold in the men’s and women’s team pursuits, women’s sprint and women’s omnium, but only had one silver in Melbourne.
Australia won silver medals in both team pursuits and the women’s omnium, while Meares was beaten by arch rival Victoria Pendleton by a tyre width in the third heat of their thrilling sprint semi-final.
In beating Australia in the men’s team pursuit for the first time since the 2008 Olympics, Britain came home strongly to pip the host nation by .106 of a second, a result which Australian Jack Bobridge described as a “kick in the guts”.
Meares and Kaarle McCulloch were aiming for a fourth successive world title in the women’s team sprint, but German pair Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel set a world record to beat the Australians to gold by .048 of a second.
In only their third ride together, Australia’s women’s team pursuiters Josephine Tomic, Melissa Hoskins and Annette Edmondson continued their remarkable progress and should be better in London.
The battle between Australia and Britain lived up to all the hype in Melbourne, with Pendleton even saying the Brits exceeded expectations with their performances.
Neither country will dominate track cycling in London like they did in Athens in 2004 when Australia won five gold and four years later in Beijing where Britain won seven.
But, between them, they will be the dominant teams at the velodrome and while Britain are in great shape heading into their home Games, Australia are not far behind.
Just don’t count on six gold.